Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
A nine-year breast cancer survivor and five-year melanoma survivor shares her thoughts on cancer survivorship with a side of mid-life crisis.
Right now, I am celebrating. Today I am a nine-year breast cancer survivor and a five-year melanoma survivor. In addition, I just completed my breast reconstruction procedures. I feel like I deserve to take a little breath and maybe even dare to look forward? What does looking forward look like? I am not sure. If I am fortunate to be around for the final third of my life, what do I want that life to be? Do I need therapy for a mid-life crisis instead of cancer stress?
At the time I received my first cancer diagnosis, I felt like I had been handed an early death sentence. My children were still in school! So far, and I can only say "so far," a quick death sentence has not been my case. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to be magically transported eight to 10 years into the future, or at least five, since making the five-year mark without a recurrence is a statistically good thing. At diagnosis, I realized it was kind of sad for me to wish away so much of my life. Now that I am out here as a longer-term survivor, I am not sure what it all means. Maybe I need a fresh approach to my remaining life?
For fellow cancer survivors, I think it means hope. Have hope. Keep your hope. Hang onto your hope firmly with both hands. Yes, I have had two unrelated cancers, but I am still here. You may be here someday too. I have run into a surprising (to me) number of cancer survivors who have had multiple cancers or multiple recurrences and are still here. That means there is hope. I think all cancer survivors like to hear about people who have their type of cancer who are still here further down the road. Yet we can struggle.
I have been researching mid-life and later-life crisis advice. Factors that can cause a mid-life or later-life crisis can include health, relationship or employment issues. Every cancer survivor has had the obvious health issue of cancer. Some of us also grieve the loss of family or friends to cancer or other health problems. Some of us struggle with the impact of our health issues on our employment or relationships in one way or another. Advice for fellow survivors? Learn from your cancer experience(s). Be proactive with your life rather than reactive. Live in the now. Be kind. Practice gratitude.
Do not be afraid to plan or to make a bucket list for the final third of life. Above all, start working on the items on that bucket list! Travel. Try a new hobby. Consider and explore volunteer service. You have already had cancer. Now it is time to have or do or see or think about something else. You deserve it. We all do.
Life is good, and life truly can get better with time. When I was first diagnosed and in active treatment, life did not feel so good. Side effects, fear, dread and almost endless worry were my new constant companions. I think my cancer has helped me learn to become braver. Life has and will continue to move on, and so will I, and so can you.